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I’ve lived in the Bo Kaap area for just under 15 years. Bo Kaap’s got a special culture. The people are nice, you know the people next door… that type of thing. The houses are beautiful, the cobblestones, the streets… and there are always children playing in the area. During the fast, there are always people running across the road from house to house, giving each other cake and if someone’s returned from Mecca, they’ll come and greet their neighbours. Originally, my father was from District Six and my mother from the Eastern Cape but Bo Kaap is home for me. It has a homely vibe.
There are other Muslim areas in Cape Town but I think Bo-Kaap has something special –I could never live in any other place. If I had to leave it would have to be for the coast or somewhere along the garden route. I won’t live in the suburbs. I can’t ‘come right’ in the suburbs. I think I get on quite easily with most people but you just don’t get that same feeling in the suburbs. I stayed in Wynberg for a year and hated it.
I’d say my home is typical of most houses in this area.. The ambience is very Malay, very Eastern. Like mine, many homes have scatter cushions around for sitting on the floor and eating. Sitting at the table is nice for something more formal – English style. But most of the time we eat with our hands and the menu is very traditional.
What makes me happiest about this house is that it’s so calm and far from the noise of the city traffic. When you come up here, it’s so peaceful and tranquil. It can be a mission to walk up the hill when you don’t have transport but the view is awesome. I’ve also got lovely neighbours. I know just about everyone around here and everyone keeps an eye on each other. Most people are involved in the various organisations in the neighbourhood. In fact, we just formed an adjudication forum which deals with everything falling under human rights like issues with re-zoning of areas, landlords exploiting tenants and so on. There is no way you can just evict people in this community. We all stand together, working with the community for the community.
Lately, people are coming in, buying property, renovating and turning it into some sort of Clifton. But this is Bo Kaap and we have to work to protect that character. Of course, people should upgrade their own homes and make them look quaint and pretty but we shouldn’t be changing the essence of the area which is the best part about it. For example, we have some of the non-Muslims that have moved in, I’m thinking in particular of one lady in Dorp Street, calling in to get the athaan turned off. Now, there are five of those that go off during the day. If you’re moving into the Bo Kaap, surely you know that it’s going to be like that? It’s like me going down the street and putting my prayer mat down outside the Roman Catholic Church. It doesn’t make sense.
As you can tell, my religion is reflected strongly in my home. As you come in, it’s on the front door, it’s in the lounge, it’s in the bedroom, it’s in the passage I’ve got prayer mats over my door, the Arabic alphabet… It’s everywhere. I brought back the ayatuul-kursiy from Israel. It’s one of the most important prayers out of the Koran – a strong and protective prayer. I read it every day and it really makes my day go a lot better. I never leave the house without reading it. It’s like people getting up and reading a verse from the Bible I guess.
The bright colours probably express my ‘personality’ the most. Maybe because I mix with people from all walks of life with different influences. Nothing matches but everything just goes together.
The Okha pipe is of great sentimental value to me. I don’t like my Okha pipe to disappear. I asked my son to bring it for me from Egypt. I’ve also got my two cassettes of Arabic music that I don’t like to lend out. It takes me back to the time I travelled through the Middle East. I also have special prayer mats that I brought from Mecca.
I started my coffee shop at the back mainly because I was retrenched from the Cape Sun where I was working in Travel and Tourism. Secondly, I cook great food, even if I say so myself! I take a lot of pride in the food I cook – what I give to my family I will give to the people who come here. People in the neighbourhood really support my business – they’ll even call me up and ask what I’m cooking for the day. It’s a wonderful life and it’ll take something major to move me out of Bo Kaap.
Photographs by Mark Shoul.